May 23, 2013

Drumming in the Apartment

I started taking drum lesson a little over a month ago and have been having an absolute blast. It was something I'd been wanting to do for a long time and finally decided it was time to learn.

One of the things that had been keeping me from learning was the inability to practice in my apartment. Other musicians know that apartment living is often not conducive to mastering your instrument. I've actually taken to cutting down my piano time because of disturbances to my neighbors. Headphones on my electric piano (or an electric drum set) will not help because the problem isn't the sound, it's the vibrations. Every time you stomp on your kick pedal, or depress a key on the piano with some force, the impact is sent into your floor (more-so for hard wood floors) making it vibrate and act like a big drum. Even if you can't hear it, the people below you can. Even if you're on the bottom floor, there's a chance the vibrations are being sent up your walls to the people around you. So you can understand why I was nervous about taking drums.

I did a lot of research on drumming websites and found a particularly novel solution that involves drilling holes into sheets of wood and separating them from each other with tennis balls. This looked a bit too expansive for fitting into my office, plus I just needed something basic to fit a few pieces of equipment onto. I've got a real drum set at a different location, but for my apartment I just needed a few things to practice on. Here's what I ended up with, first the padding:

I bought a few things from Target and some other stuff I had laying around. From the floor up:

On the bottom is a really squishy bath mat with a rubber surface on the bottom. These are great because not only does all the squishy-ness absorb vibrations, the rubber keeps it from slipping.

On top of the bath mat I've got some nice thick bubble wrap. Putting layers of air between the impact and the floor is the best way to get rid of vibrations, and this bubble wrap is thick enough to not pop, but still has large air pockets.

As you can imagine, piling layers of squishy materials on top of each other will not make for a very secure practice area. I put a sheet of cardboard on top of the mat and bubble wrap for a more secure surface. That's the only purpose of the cardboard.

Partly because the carboard was ugly, partly because it was slippery, and partly because I wanted a tiny bit more absorption, I put a simple towel on top of the cardboard, and that was it!

Now as said, I'm not using a real drumset, just some cheap stuff to practice on:

From left to right (excluding the throne):

Hi-hat with practice pads on it. This is probably the noisiest part of the set still but it's still pretty quiet. The only downside is that the pad on the top cymbal makes it a bit hard to practice open hi-hat playing or left foot pedaling. 

Vic Firth Practice pad on a snare stand. It's super quiet and replaces a snare drum for practicing.

My kick pedal is being played into a combination of pillows. Read below to see how I put that thing together.

On the far right are some simple guitar hero drums that were languishing in my parents' basement. Those aren't totally necessary (I just added them yesterday) but I was finding myself wanting something else to hit when practicing my fills and they simulate toms really well.

There's no ride or crash cymbal because I didn't find them totally necessary at this point, however I can use one of the pads on the right to simulate a ride for coordination only.

The most complicated thing (and potentially disruptive) was the kick pedal. This is where a lot of the annoying impact would come from. I ended up doing the following:

The "bass drum" itself is a seat cushion tied to a crappy $4 pillow (it was actually two pillows for $4 at Target). The back pillow provides all the dampening you could want while the seat cushion provides a harder, bouncier surface to imitate rebound. It's also slightly audible so you can hear if you're striking correctly. It's not totally perfect, but it works just fine for beginner practicing. Behind that pillow contraption is the box the pedal came in with a 25lb free weight inside of it. The pedal needed something to attach to or it would just flop around, so I stuck one flap of the box out, put the weight inside and duct-taped the opening up so that it looked totally normal except for that one flap. I then attached the pedal to that flap, stuck the pillows between the pedal and the box, placed the box against the wall and the pedal on the padding and voila, no impact or extra sound!

The thing is not totally secure, meaning parts rock around a bit as you play, but overall it hasn't been distracting. I imagine this kind of thing would be of little help to a more accomplished drummer, but as a beginner who lives in an apartment, it's been perfect!

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